The next piece in Australian innovation is quietly being assembled in the heart of the Hunter Valley coal mining region in New South Wales.
Along with launching a slew of new products aimed at enhancing safety aspects of the mining industry, Hedweld Group of Companies is preparing to open a world-class, $8 million manufacturing facility in Hunter Valley that will become home to the most advanced robotic metal processing technology and equipment in the world.
From the beginning
Founded in 1980 by Ian Hedley, a fourth-generation farmer, the company originally began serving the local mining industry of Hunter Valley mainly through small repairs and fabrication. Using farmer’s ingenuity, the small family business has grown to become a world leader in the design, manufacture and export of mining equipment.
Today, Hedweld Engineering provides innovative products specifically designed and built to improve safety, efficiency and productivity in the mining and earthmoving industries, offering two proprietary products: Trilift® and Safe-Away®.
The Trilift series of products are specifically designed to assist with the removal, installation and handling of components on mining and heavy earthmoving vehicles.
“The majority of our products are safety related that provide efficiencies in maintenance,” said Mark Gream, Global Products Manager.
“Trilift improves maintenance handling by using the latest design techniques and technology to do things smarter. It provides a safer working environment for maintenance staff, which can lead to achieving zero harm, and it can also reduce the number personnel required to perform maintenance tasks freeing up labor for other duties.”
Safe-Away is another trademark product from Hedweld. It provides technologically advanced access options for most makes and models of truck, dozer, loader, grader, scraper, shovel, excavator and drill rig.
According to Gream, the majority of Hedweld’s products come as requests from customers, equipment manufacturers and end users.
“They’ll tell us they have got a problem with a specific task. We’ll go out and do some engineering and design work, and then develop it into a mainstream product,” Gream explained.
In addition, Hedweld is currently trialing a range of brand new, benchmark-shattering products. Expected to be launched in early 2016, the company is gearing up to release the following products: Universal Wheel Nut Tool; Universal Body Pin Handler; WAC30 – 30T Wheel Assembly Carrier; CR20000 Component Rotator; Cat 795 Generator Hoist; and Variable Height Sliding Stair.
In keeping with its savvy farmer’s mindset, Hedweld is looking to diversify into new industries in order to sustain its business from the recent mining downturn. One such product is Milbrotec, with the first product line being innovative fencing system designed to improve conventional fencing installation methods.
“We’re taking what we’ve learned over the years and bringing it to the agriculture industry,” said Gream.
The unique design of Milbrotec fencing system allows users to easily erect, remove and replace fence posts, while minimizing the labor intensive, timely and heavy installation process.
“The creation of Milbrotec is a testament to Hedweld and its ability to leverage its existing people, skills and assets, particularly its advanced robotics and technology and expertise in research and development.”
Milbrotec has also designed a floating fencing system that allows users to elevate their posts and wires when rivers or creeks rise, ensuring debris doesn’t collect at the fence and livestock are safely preserved.
Focus on innovation, focus on education
Hedweld has been working with TAFE – Australia’s leading vocation education and training provider – to create a pilot on-site training program for first year boiler makers and welders.
The program aims to ensure Hedweld’s apprentices are at the forefront of cutting-edge technology like machining and robotics, which the company believes will revolutionize the way they process steel components.
“With the new facility and world firsts in machinery, we will continue to develop our own training programs and have people upskilled to utilize the equipment and technology we have,” Gream said.
“We worked with TAFE to develop our own course material because we felt like it could be improved. Training is something we pride ourselves in, and it’s something we’re investing heavily in.”
Furthermore, the company actively collaborates with industry experts on a various levels, including partnering with a number of organizations to push the envelope of innovation.
“We’re collaborating with a range of companies and organisations that specialize in things like automation, hydraulics, and even vision technology,” said Gream.
Monumental advancement for Australia manufacturing
Opening in February 2016, the expansion of Hedweld Engineer’s new Mount Thorley facility will propel the company into the future of manufacturing.
Hedweld is investing $8 million into the advanced manufacturing facility, including $2 million from the Commonwealth’s Manufacturing Transition Program, which seeks to encourage Australian manufacturers to invest in more sophisticated and knowledge-intensive manufacturing.
The new Mount Thorley manufacturing facility will incorporate state-of-the-art CNC machinery and robotics.
“Some of the technology we’re investing in is not only a first in Australia, but also a first in the world,” said Gream. “It’s going to allow us to be fully automated and push us to the next level of manufacturing.”
The innovative new machinery includes: Mazak FabriGear 400 Beamline Laser Tube cutter; Mazak Super Turbo-X 3Kw sheet laser cutter; Kinetic K5000 Plasma & Oxy Machine Plateline Cutter; and Okuma U4000.
According to the company, the new equipment means that Hedweld will be able to offer its advanced manufacturing services to, and collaborate with, other Australian manufacturers - producing their high volume products locally, to help keep them globally competitive.
The Mount Thorley facility in New South Wales is expected to usher in a new era of manufacturing in Australia, and will become the driving force for keeping Hedweld competitive with product development and advanced manufacturing techniques.
“We want to become the manufacturing benchmark for the future and help other Australian organisations and manufacturers to learn from us,” said Gream.